In Valkyria Chronicles for the Playstation 3, players take the role of a militia squad commander defending a small nation in a fictionalized World War II. In this setting players engage in battles that combine elements of strategy RPGs, action RPGs, and tactical shooters. In this way Valkyria Chronicles breaks a lot of new ground for the SRPG subgenre.
Valkryia Chronicles calls its unique blend the BLiTZ (Battle of Live Tactical Zones) system. At its core the game is technically turn-based, strongly resembling the Fire Emblen and Advance Wars games from Nintendo but with real time elements spliced in.
Within each turn in Valkyria Chronicles, characters are controlled in a real time 3D space as opposed to a grid. The distance each character can move in a turn is determined by an AP (Ability Points) meter and the actual combat interface somewhat resembles recent third person shooters like Gears of War.
This goes a long way in making battles more vivid compared to games like Disgaea or the recent Fire Emblems. What makes Valkyria Chronicles so fulfilling though is how its challenge is focused on tactics and not power levels.
Putting the “Strategy” back in Strategy Role Playing
Players do gain experience points and level up characters in Valkyria Chronicles, but it’s all handled in a way that promotes teams instead of individuals and in the end counts for little in the face of having the right battle plan.
Players get to control several types of characters like troopers, scouts, engineers, lancers (bazookas), and snipers, and each one has clear strengths and weaknesses that are discovered in the opening levels of the game.
The later levels in Valkyria Chronicles are extremely intense affairs that require aggressive and precise coordination of each character’s movements. One thing Sega does really well here is presenting situations that initially look terrifying to tackle but become manageable to those who are careful and can think a few steps ahead.
The ability to beset players with a real sense of drama and urgency while feeling deliciously tactical makes Valkyira Chronicles a top-tier strategy RPG, but this first entry leaves room for improvement in a lot of small but important areas.
Generally speaking, Valkyria Chronicles doesn’t give the player nearly as much tactical information up front as they might get while playing Advance Wars. Because of this, a lot of plans must be tested through trial and error which can sometimes cause a single battle to last several hours. This and a few other things are the kinds of flaws that are easily cleared up in sequels.
In spite of everything about tactics in Valkyria Chronicles, the first thing many notice about it is its art style. Valkyria Chronicles is, as Sega put it, “World War II, yet not.”
Sega Depicts an anime Version of WWII
Sega chose to use the Playstation 3 to go beyond simple cel-shading with Valkyria Chronicles’ graphics engine called “CANVAS” and create a world with a distinctly “sketched-in” vibe.
The game’s intro starts with a pencil drawing that when completed is revealed to be the first frame of a cut scene from the game. Everything from the pencil scratches that make up shadows to the spelled out sound effects and the way textures are handled suggests the look of a moving comic book which is only the beginning of Valkyria Chronicles’ stylized depiction of World War II.
Valkyria Chronicles’ storyline is utterly predictable to anyone who’s played a Japanese RPG or watched a season of any anime, and most of the characters are wafer thin. Even the music composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto (Final Fantasy XII) fails to stand out. That said, the feeling of there being a complete “world” within the game successfully comes across.
Although the dozens of playable characters are all mostly anime stereotypes, they create a varied cast that’s somewhat like a more lighthearted version of Saving Private Ryan. Each soldier used in Valkyria Chronicles also has a unique name, face, voice, and past along with likes and dislikes which keeps them from being expendable.
What drive’s Valkyria Chronicles’ world home is how the whole game is presented in the form of a thick book with battles as its chapters along with many pages of back story and cut scenes. The amount of content Valkyria Chronicles offers outside of the 30-hour main campaign like extra items, battles, and pages is what ultimately makes it worth $60.
Sporting gameplay that successfully blends action with strategy role playing elements, a setting that depicts a real war with classic anime trope, and a mountain of content to justify the price, Valkyria Chronicles is certainly the most progressive strategy RPG to come out in a while and a standout title for the PS3.